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Percy Family Accounts

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Jurisdiction 1: FamilyDocument category 1: Household accounts
From region: Percy Family RecordsFrom place: Alnwick, Northumberland
Relevant material from 1575 to 1642
Accounting documents containing dramatic records extend from 1575-1642 at the Archives of the Duke of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle, Northumberland. Moved to the Castle from Syon House, Middlesex, they indicate that the Percies during this time supported performing arts generously. The family paid musicians, travelling players, jesters, and purchased musical instruments. Their entourage included ‘Iacomo the Italyan’ who performed a ‘comody’.

Most of the MSS are paper rolls, the shortest two sheets, and the longest 22 sheets. All sheets are attached serially. Although some sheets are torn, most are clear and legible. Accounting time periods, usually from January or February of one year to January of February of the next, are defined at the heads of the rolls. The rolls are divided into different paragraphs, labelled ‘Stables’, ‘Liveries’, ‘Rewards’, ‘Foreign payments’, etc. The sections ‘Rewards’ and ‘Foreign payments’ are the most likely to include dramatic records, but these references can occur almost anywhere. English predominates, but occasional Latin phrases occur as well.

The draft account booklets are less straightforward than the rolls and present many complications. Writing in the drafts is less legible, and there are many cancellations and corrections. For the booklets, beginning and ending dates within the year are difficult to ascertain. Fortunately, all the accounting documents included in this posting are available in microfilms listed in British Manuscripts Project: A Checklist of the Microfilms Prepared in England and Wales for the American Council of Learned Societies 1941-1945, compiled by Lester K. Born (Washington: The Library of Congress, 1955).

However, after the passage of over 70 years, most Checklist shelf designations for Percy accounting documents are incorrect. Updated shelf designations and descriptions for the selected records are furnished here, thanks to Dr James Gibson. He was assisted by the Duke of Northumberland’s Archivist, Mr Christopher Hunwick, and his staff. Support for their work was contributed by REED-NE and Point Park University.

The years covered by these dramatic records, 1575-1642, coincide with the times of the 12th, 13th, and 14th earls of Northumberland, all of whom lived in the South. Their turbulent lives were frequently associated with lethal violence. For instance, the 12th Earl, Henry Percy (circa 1532-21 June 1585), became implicated in plots to free Mary and was sent to the Tower on 12 December 1584. There he died by murder or suicide.

Most of the dramatic records are associated with the 13th earl, Henry A. Percy (May 1564-5 November 1632), whose principal residence was always Petworth in West Sussex. [...] The 14th earl, Algernon Percy (29 September 1602 - 13 October 1668) sought compromise between Charles I and Parliament. But for REED purposes he is known for attending plays and buying playbooks in 1638 or early 1639 (see U.I.5/50 sheet [3] and Explanatory Note).

Since the Percy family travelled widely and owned property throughout England, the locality of any given performance or payment is not always easily definable. However, historical context can give some indications of place. For instance, the family was required to stay in the South from 1574 or 1575, and so most of the dramatic records after this date are probably associated with this region. Other records include clear local references, such as the payment to Sir Francis Vere’s players in Holland (U.I.3/2, sheet [4]). Further study may help identify additional specific localities.

-- Robert Alexander, 2018